Leavy impresses on audition for seven shirt after luckless SOB injury

YOU CAN’T HELP but feel sorry for Sean O’Brien.

The Tullow man simply has no luck. Back in an Ireland jersey for the first time in a year, he didn’t even last 40 minutes before his latest injury setback.

Sean O’Brien suffered another cruel injury. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

O’Brien launched himself into a tackle on Tomás Lavanini with his typical vigour but was deeply unfortunate that the Pumas lock’s head collided with his right forearm, causing instant pain.

Ireland’s medics ran to O’Brien but the look on his face said it all and Schmidt’s post-match confirmation of an arm break requiring surgery was no surprise.

Sympathy for the 31-year-old will be widespread but he knows better than anyone how quickly professional rugby moves on.

Just as Dan Leavy took his opportunity when Josh van der Flier went down injured in the dramatic win over France at the beginning of Ireland’s Grand Slam run, he delivered off the bench in place of O’Brien against Argentina.

There was an early penalty in the second half, a technical offence for tackling Emiliano Boffelli while he was on the ground, and though it gave up three points to the boot of Nicolás Sánchez, the effort still showed what Leavy is all about.

Tackle everything that moves, as hard as you can. Carry every ball that comes your way, as explosively as possible. Turnover any opposition possession that falls within your eyeline, as aggressively as ever.

Leavy’ influence in the second half was telling for Ireland as they emerged 28-17 winners against the Pumas and the Leinster openside was unlucky not to have a try to crown his abrasive showing, being held up under the posts just before Luke McGrath sniped over from the resulting scrum for the third Irish five-pointer.

Leavy offloads against the Pumas. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Leavy’s competitiveness even won him what is increasingly becoming a rarity in the modern game, a clean turnover. So often, ball-carriers cling onto the ball and give up a penalty, but Leavy stripped the Pumas clean.

On the ball, Leavy put together a busy 11-carry performance as he eked out 37 metres, beat one defender and popped away two offloads.

Leavy was prominent in the defensive line too, completing seven tackles and hammering his shoulder into several Argentina carriers.

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In short, this was an excellent audition for the starting seven shirt against the All Blacks next weekend. 

“Dan, not long after he came on, gave up a bit of an unlucky penalty,” said Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt of Leavy’s performance. “He was still on the ground and he clipped Boffelli who, if he had played the ball, it might have been play on, so he’s a bit unlucky there.

“His competitiveness, how combative he is, how keen he is to get involved, I thought he did a really good job. 

“He carried down the left wing a couple of times, he carried through the middle a couple of times, defensively he was strong, got some good pressure on the ball. That’s what you want from a seven.”

However, Schmidt underlined the ability of other back rows in his squad and suggested that Leavy isn’t quite a shoo-in for the seven shirt next weekend.

Leavy embraces man of the match James Ryan. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Josh van der Flier is understandably a Schmidt favourite and has good form behind him, while Jordi Murphy has delivered for Ireland in the past too. 

“I do think there are some other sevens who are going very well as well,” said Schmidt. “Josh obviously did in Chicago and that’s a tough decision for us during the week, which is exactly what we want.

“We’re disappointed not to have Sean O’Brien in that decision-making mix but the seven loose forwards that are in the squad, or seven-and-a-half if you count Tadhg Beirne, it’s an uncomfortable decision that’s going to have to be made.

“It does add comfort knowing that Dan, on the back of a couple of hit-outs, has slotted straight back in as well as he did. We didn’t anticipate it being too different.

“He spent plenty of time with us during the Six Nations and while he only played 20 minutes in Australia, he spent plenty of time with the squad.

“For him to hit the ground running is fantastic for us and it will add confidence to Dan.”

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